Poison City is the fantastical love child of Supernatural and a Lauren Beukes novel. Part urban fantasy, part crime novel it is a pure twisted reading delight. I recently had the opportunity to do a Q & A with Paul about his career, his novel and a certain alcoholic dog... If you haven't read Poison City yet, you are definitely missing out!
KJ: Firstly, time for the big introduction. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
Paul Crilley: I was born in Scotland and my family moved to South Africa in the eighties. My parents were a bit fickle though, and we moved back to Scotland two years later, only to head back to S.A. again, another two years later.
I started reading Hardy Boys books when I was nine, then moved on to Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Reading those authors was like a slap in the face, as it opened up fantasy and science fiction to me. As well as humour. Pratchett and Adams were a huge influence on my style. I love weaving humour into stories.
Poison City is my first adult novel. Before this my books were all YA and MG. The Invisible Order is a Middle Grade series set in Victorian times about a hidden war fought on the streets of London between the races of Faerie and mankind. It may or not be set in the same universe as Poison City. And The Adventures of Tweed & Nightingale is a YA steampunk series about the young clone of Sherlock Holmes.
KJ: You’ve worked in various different types of media including writing for TV, computer games and comics. Having such an impressive repertoire, did you find that storytelling through these varied media allowed you to more easily bring the characters and world of Poison City to life?
PC: Definitely. But storytelling is storytelling, no matter the form. It boils down to writing something you want to read and that you hope entertains your readers. But I’ve always loved movies and screenwriting, especially writing dialogue. So I guess the screenwriting helped with the more cinematic style of Poison City, as well as the banter between the characters.
KJ: Dog definitely steals the show. I found him to be the perverted spiritual successor to Terry Pratchett’s Gaspode. How did the idea of an alcoholic dog as a spirit guide come about?
PC: I didn’t intend it that way, but can totally see the resemblance. As I said, I grew up reading Terry Pratchett, so it was inevitable that his work influenced my own writing style.
KJ: Poison City could very easily have been set in any part of the world. Why did you choose to set it in South Africa and Durban in particular?
PC: For one, I wanted to set it somewhere that hadn’t been used before, to try and make it a bit different. And secondly, I live close to Durban (In Hillcrest, actually, another town featured in the book), so thought it would be easier for research purposes.
KJ: The orisha and other supernatural creatures found in the novel are drawn from a huge variety of myths, superstitions and beliefs. Did you research the various mythological creatures before incorporating them into the novel?
PC: Definitely. I spent about 6 months planning and researching the book before starting to write. It’s the most research-intensive project I’ve ever worked on. But it’s all fun.
KJ: There is a very dark and unsettlingly twisted version of Christian mythology that sets the stage for the events in Poison City. Without giving anything away, did you set out to subvert that traditional belief system from the start or was it part of the natural progression of the story?
PC: I like to subvert familiar tropes where I can. I don’t always succeed, and when you fail you run the risk of it falling into cliche, but I did want to put my own spin on the Christian mythology. One of my many failings is that I sometimes tend to have a low opinion of the human race (and organised religion in general) and I think that did feed into the story. But it’s the story that I wanted to write, using my own beliefs and opinions. I think that’s really important. Always write the book that only you could write. Your own upbringing, your own particular experiences etc, will make the book you write different to anyone else, even if the subject matter is the same.
KJ: Magic (shinecraft) comes at a huge cost to its wielder. Akin to an addiction it changes them irrevocably, with often fatal consequences. This is something you seldom see in most fantasy novels. Why did you decide to have magical ability exact such a terrible price?
PC: Again, I just wanted to subvert the tropes of wizards having this amazing power and it being all cool and powerful. I like the fact that London’s tattoos want to eat him. I like the fact that every time you do magic you run the risk of turning yourself inside out. It gives an element of uncertainty to their power. And also it gives them limits. If these guys really had unlimited power they’d be ruling the world. But if you run the risk of your eyeballs melting every time you use magic, that tends to calm the ambitions of any possible megalomaniac dictators.
KJ: The sequel to Poison City is titled Neon City. Can you give us any hints on what awaits Tau and Dog on their next adventure? When can we expect to see it on our shelves?
PC: Neon City is still a tentative title. I’m not sure how much I can say about it, but the gang will be traveling to London to chase down the seven sins, and we’ll be meeting some of the mythological creatures from Britain’s early days as well as folk from Armitage and London’s past.
KJ: Lastly, a bit of fun. If you worked for the Delphic Division what would your spirit guide turn out to be and which type of shinecraft do you think you’d want to specialise in?
PC: I’d like the dog, to be honest. He’s fun and psycho, and if he has your back, he has your back. (Unless he’s drunk or watching his soapies.) As to my type of shine craft, that’s a difficult one. I think I’d like to check out the Fae magic systems a bit more, see what they have on the menu. Bet they’d have something interesting.